Back Heritage » Asia » [Video] This Vintage Travelogue Showcases Life in Rural and Urban Taiwan in the 1950s

In today’s Asia, mentions of Taiwan conjure up visions of futuristic technological advancements and major progress in LGBT rights.

This vintage travelogue, however, might provide rare and vastly different insight into the island nation’s past. Majestic Island is a 1950s video feature by Periscope Film, a company specialized in providing stock historical footage from a range of subjects including aviation, transportation and the military.

In the feature, filmmakers traveled to Taiwan, better known by the name Formosa at the time, to capture some amazing color montages of the country in the mid-20th century. It starts with expansive shots of Sun Moon Lake, a picturesque lake in the heart of the island and a highly sought-after tourist destination today, and moves on to depict aboriginal and rural communities in the area. Scenes in 1950s rural Taiwan might pass for those captured in the Mekong or Red River Delta in Vietnam, where farmers toil in the paddy fields all day.

Apart from documentary-style shots, the video feature also includes a plot in the form of slice-of-life segments of the Chang family, who lived in the countryside. According to the narrative, the Changs were farmers, but had a son who lived in Taipei as a fighter pilot, so — through their family engagements — the plot showcases the transition from rural to metropolitan Taiwan, as well as cultural facets of the country such as a dragon boat race and Chinese opera.

Of course, being the product of its time, the American-made vintage reel harbors some questionable attitudes toward its Asian subjects. The tone of the narration is a bit patronizing, such as the usage of outdated phrases like “the teeming Orient,” that might discomfort some viewers. At one point, in his description of aboriginal Taiwanese, the narrator refers to them as “erstwhile savages.” Yikes.

Still, despite its obsolete attitudes, for those with an interest in Asian history, Majestic Island offers a rare glimpse into Taiwan’s mid-century history. Watch the clip below:

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